Grain Science 1.3

Grain Science 1.3 is out, and it’s big! Rather than lots of little changes (as in version 1.1 and version 1.2), there are four major upgrades. Let’s dig in and see what’s new:

Universal Device Support

The first and biggest news is that Grain Science is now a Universal app. This means that it runs on both iPhone and iPod touch, as well as iPad. If you’ve already purchased Grain Science for iPad, and you have an iPhone/iPod touch, you can just install the updated version on your pocket device and start making music — and if you don’t have an iPad and have been missing out, welcome aboard!

Of course, it features high-res Retina graphics on iPhone 4/4S and equivalent iPod touch models — and the new iPad too!

iPhone envelope editor

You might be wondering if there are any compromises involved — can you really get the powerful synthesis of Grain Science in pocket form?

If you’re using iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S, the answer is: you get exactly the same audio engine as the iPad version. No compromises.

If you’re using an iPhone 3GS or third-generation iPod touchfootnote 1, you will find one small limitation: 8-note polyphony instead of 16.

That’s it.

Of course, the user-interface is slightly different on iPhone — simply shrinking the iPad interface wouldn’t work, the controls would be too small to tap.

The main change is that you flip between the keyboard and the control panels. You do this by flicking the “mini keyboard” down to reveal the panels, or up to return to the keyboard. Only one control panel is shown at a time, instead of two, and there are a few minor layout changes, but all the features are present.

(Note: When in control-panel mode, you can still play notes — we fold the keyboard up into a little tap-board — but it’s not intended for playing music that way. It’s just there so you can tap out a few notes to hear how your instrument sounds.)

There’s also only one Performance Panel (that’s the one with 2 XY pads, or up to 8 pitch wheels). We could support a second page of them, but since you’d have to scroll between them anyway, and the whole purpose of the Performance Panel is to make everything available without scrolling, it seemed a bit pointless!

Arpeggiator 2.0

The arpeggiation unit has been rewritten! The Chord mode is a little cleaner and tidier, but the major upgrade is to the Step mode. The sequencer now supports 32 steps, a much wider range of notes, and allows you to sequence a whole bunch more stuff, not just notes:

  • Instead of a global Retrigger switch,footnote 2 you can now control Retrigger per-note. Along the top of the sequence display is a timeline that contains a “morse code”-style pattern indicating when notes are triggered vs sustained. You can tap there to change the behaviour.
  • Glide is now supported in Step mode: if you enable it, the arpeggiator will glide between notes that are sustained (if their pitches are different). You can extend this across multiple steps for an ongoing portamento.
  • Velocity (more on this later) can also be set for each step in the sequence.
  • There are also two “spare” control channels, Control A and Control B. You can set their values for each step, and then use the Control Mapper to drive synthesis parameters from them. Want to change Low-Pass Filter cutoff frequency for each step of the sequence? You can!

Additionally, there are some UI enhancements to the sequencer: You can zoom it up to fill the screen, which makes for much more comfortable viewing — this is pretty sweet on iPad, but completely essential on iPhone.

You can also change multiple steps at once! Just place your finger on the first step, adjust the slider if necessary, then sweep your finger sideways. All the steps you sweep your finger across will line up with the first one.

Once you’re editing multiple steps, you can slide up and down, and the steps will arrange themselves into a slope/staircase. Describing it is slightly awkward, but doing it feels very natural! It’s especially useful when adjusting velocity or a control channel.

Ribbons and Velocity

Grain Science has always supported velocity data sent from a MIDI device. Typically, this represents how hard you strike the keys on a MIDI keyboard, but of course it depends on the device sending the MIDI data. Grain Science used the velocity to make a note louder or softer.

We’ve made some changes so that velocity is more useful. The first thing we’ve done is to provide a way to control velocity even without a MIDI controller: In the Settings, you can now switch the keyboard for a “ribbon controller”. This replaces the traditional piano keys with metal strips; the position of your finger along each strip controls the velocity for that note.

It’s directly tied to the MIDI velocity, so if you have the ribbon controller enabled and happen to be using a MIDI device, you’ll see the ribbons reflecting the force with which you strike the keys on your MIDI keyboard (or equivalent).

As previously mentioned, you can also sequence velocity using Arpeggiator 2.0. This applies in combination with the MIDI or ribbon velocity: if you have a programmed step-sequence that, for example, alternates between 100% and 50% velocity on each note, but play a ribbon or MIDI controller at 60%, the steps will alternate between 60% and 30%, as the two controls are combined. Hopefully that makes sense! It allows you to use a ribbon controller to fade a programmed sequence in and out, for one thing.

Finally in this section, you can change what velocity actually means. You can switch off the default behaviour of making a sound louder or quieter (look for the “Link Gain to Velocity” switch), and/or use the Control Mapper to drive other values based on it. Want louder notes to be more distorted as well? Connect the velocity to the wet/dry of one of the distortion units. Want to use the ribbons to change the timbre of a note instead of its loudness? Switch off “Link Gain to Velocity” then connect velocity to, say, the Combine Blend. Now the ribbons will change the mix between Grain Unit 1 and Grain Unit 2 — per-note!

The G-1000 Shapeinator

In an ordinary update, this would be the star attraction. It’s a sign of how big this update is that it has pushed down to last place! The G-1000 is a new FX unit that applies customised wave-shaping to your audio. It’s an effect that’s hard to describe — it’s easiest to try it out and hear the changes — but it’s a bit like the “Levels and Curves” controls in some photo-editing software: every sample in the audio is “remapped” using a curve. If the curve is a straight line from bottom-left to top-right, the output will be unchanged, but the more the line is curved, the more the sound is shaped.

You can wave-shape either using one of the presets, or by creating your own wave-shaping curve. Just drag the control-points around, or tap to add or remove them. You can save your curve as a new preset, too, to reuse in other instruments.

Other Changes

There are a handful of small bugfixes and quality improvements, and we’ve also improved the accessibility of Grain Science for VoiceOver users. And, naturally, a few extra built-in instruments!

Oh, and something else we’re experimenting with: Grain Science 1.3 users will also be able to download a high-quality version of the manual to print or read offline. The manual is available as a .PDF file, or, if you’re using Grain Science on your iPad, there’s also a version in the new iBooks interactive textbook format.

1. For even older devices, those are not supported by iOS 5.0 itself, so we couldn’t support them if we wanted to.

2. The Retrigger switch is still available in Chord mode, of course.